Thom Yorke Interview with Les Inrocks and watch a live performance of Judge Jury and Executioner
Thom Yorke was recently interviewed by Les Inrocks about Atoms For Peace’s forthcoming album AMOK, which will be released later this month. The interview is in French and was translated by Andrew M. (Thanks Andrew!).
A very long interview with Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke returns with the new album from his super-group Atoms for Peace and he has agreed to give us a long interview, transcribed in its entirety, where he explains all to us.
The album cover of Amok is quite sombre and apocalyptic…
There is also a humorous aspect. We spoke with Stanley Donwood about it, and we decided that we wanted to carry things on from where we left them with The Eraser. It’s a good way of creating a link between the two albums, without having my name put on the sleeve. Originally, this all comes from the very first “newspapers” in the 16th Century, which were just engravings. They were incredible objects, on which were written major events of the time, natural disasters, hangings, battles, and all in a very raw manner. We thought that this form of representation was ideal to depict a sort of nightmare, but in a way that was so outrageous that it became almost a cartoon. Equally, it’s a way of saying things without giving the impression that we’re preaching.
You have worked at the heart of Radiohead for years, you have released a solo album, and now you find yourself in a group that is not Radiohead… what effect does finding a new group have? And how does that change Radiohead?
Even I don’t know how to define Atoms for Peace. It’s a group because we play together on stage and we share ideas. On the album, however, it’s mainly myself and Nigel who get involved, using and producing the elements created in a group. In Radiohead, things progress much more collectively and directly. Atoms for Peace is something more shapeless, more flexible than an actual band.
What I love about the project, then, is that I don’t know what it is, and I don’t want to know what it is. It’s more of a process that Nigel and I lead the majority of. I throw ideas out there, and the others respond to them; we don’t see each other very often as both Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are on tour. It’s actually quite strange. We managed to run into each other a couple of weeks ago, and I was almost relieved: “Ah, it’s still there…” (laughs).
This is a way of doing something new for you – is it a bit of excitement that you need?
Yes. It’s the variety that I love. The strange mix between what I like in dance music and the very human skills of these technically gifted musicians is what I love. It’s the space between the two that I like, and I get the impression that I have yet barely explored it. I always try to not engage myself too much, to retain a certain degree of minimalism, so that it doesn’t become a sort of “performance”. Without doubt, it’s the major point of this project: managing to conserve the emptiness, the mechanism of dance music, whilst at the same time keeping it human. Once again, it’s the major point, but I have only just begun my explorations and I get the impression that there’s some way for me to go to find the perfect balance.
Did you feel the need to change your approach towards music?
I did for this album. The project was fed by what happened to us: we were on tour with The Eraser and Atoms for Peace took root in this particular energy, things happened naturally and we met up in the studio for three days to record some stuff. Just to amuse ourselves, just to capitalise on this strange energy that we found, collectively. I then wrote a lot of stuff on this basis, which is something new for me.
How would you describe this “strange energy” that you speak of?
That came as a part of our own individual personalities, and a part of the particular aesthetic on which we base ourselves. We don’t “jam” at all. Instead we follow fairly strict patterns instinctively. When I took these elements to write the follow-up, I thought about only using little bits of our recordings. I was mistaken, however, and certain of the initial long sections can be found almost intact on the album.
And how did these first recordings sound?
It’s difficult to say, the process was different for each of the pieces. I remember a quite frenetic beat that I thought was impossible to use as the base of a piece, then suddenly Flea put his bass underneath it and there it was, it was exactly what we were looking for. It humanised everything, we looked for the balance between the organic and the mechanic with Atoms for Peace. Undoubtedly in a way that seems a bit strange, I think that disco has been one of the first music genres to look for
and find this balance. It’s often based on the very first beat-boxes, with drummers following an extremely strict set of synthetic rhythms, but everything is humanised by the voice, the arrangement and the instruments. It’s something that I also find in Afrobeat. When I mix, I tie together bits that sound like they’re from the same universe, that have a similar sound, then I add a bit of Afrobeat and it generally works perfectly, it gives life to the entire room; it can have a groove of a similar nature, but the human being always turns it around, breathing life into something that pure electronic music just doesn’t have.
Is it fair to say that you’ve changed your philosophy as far as your voice is concerned for Atoms for
Not really, no. I often don’t want to force myself to imitate something; I want things to remain natural for me. What we have all wanted is for things to remain natural for us, even though we’re exploring a particular aesthetic. […] I would love to be able to tell stories like Fela [Kuti] does, but it’s not me, I will never be that. I do things my own way and I have to accept that, it’s my instinct.
Why did you choose Flea? The choice doesn’t seem obvious at first glance.
No, it doesn’t, does it. However, I felt that certain basslines on The Eraser needed him to be able to exist on stage. And it’s a recurring joke with Nigel about my basslines: he said that I imitate Flea when I write them. He said to me that Flea should play them, so that it would be Flea imitating Thom Yorke imitating Flea.
You talked about them earlier, but with regard to your lyrics, have you tried something new?
Not really. I just wanted to remain instinctive, and not try and give a certain meaning to everything that I wrote. Generally, my lyrics arrive quite early on in the process, especially with Radiohead.
You say that Amok isn’t an album for clubs, but it is influenced by dance music…
Let’s say that it’s more an album for a person to listen to individually, as opposed to in a collective environment. An album to listen to in a car rather than in a club. An album to listen to in your headphones, one that lets you dance in your head, which is what I’m doing all the time… (laughs)
What will people’s reactions be when they listen to Amok?
I don’t know. It could be a great surprise to some people. I hope that they’ll be patient with it…
You do have a passion for dancing, don’t you?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve always gone to clubs, alone, since I was 15 years old. Dancing, in my case, is a meditative act, something quite intimate. I can’t stop myself; when I re-watch old Radiohead videos, I don’t remember, I ask myself why I move like that. I’m not really conscious of what’s going on. It’s a physical need.
What’s the future like for Atoms for Peace?
It can only be open: everyone has other obligations; it’s difficult to get everyone together. We’re going to try and get together to play some concerts this year […] We’ll see, I want to continue it, but I don’t know what form it will take. […] I am conscious of everything that can be said about my dalliances in electronic music, but if people want to hear me sing with an acoustic guitar, the songs are already out there! (laughs)
And Radiohead? What are your plans?
The plan is to get together again, some day. We’ve given ourselves a year off before that time though. It’s the first break that we’ve had, and it’s strange to say that, because we’ve never really been a very fast group…
Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood revealed in an interview last week that Radiohead will be entering the recording studio in September to begin wok on their ninth album.
XL Recording uploaded a new Atoms For Peace video yesterday. Watch Atoms For Peace perform ‘Judge Jury and Executioner’ at the Fuji Rock Festival back from August 1st, 2010.